Mandarin Chinese sentence final de as a marker of private evidence

Hooi Ling Soh


In this paper, I present new empirical observations regarding discourse restrictions and interpretative effects associated with Mandarin Chinese sentence final de in a bare de sentence. I propose an analysis of de as a discourse marker that marks “private evidence”.  I then consider a prediction of the analysis regarding the distribution of de in yes/no questions.  I show that the pattern of restrictions observed with de in yes/no questions follows from the proposed analysis, coupled with a specific proposal about the syntax of de, and certain standard assumptions about the syntax of yes/no questions and modal auxiliaries.  Specifically, I argue that de heads a projection below TP and above a modal projection for non-epistemic modals.  I then discuss apparent counter-examples to the proposed discourse restrictions and suggest that the apparent counter-examples are not bare de sentences, but rather shi…de sentences with a silent shi.  The proposed analysis has implications on the syntax of modal auxiliaries, the relation between bare de sentences and shi…de sentences, and the syntax of discourse particles.  It connects de with discourse particles that mark the speaker’s belief about whether the (evidence for the) asserted proposition is shared knowledge between the speaker and the hearer and whether the (evidence for the) proposition is “verifiable on the spot” (e.g., German ja (Kratzer 1999, 2004; Gutzmann 2009); English parenthetical I’m telling you (Reese and Soh 2018)).


discourse particles, modals, private evidence, bare de sentences, sentences, questions

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